The menu in Parliament has got a tasty and nutritious upgrade. Alongside the ever-popular biryanis and cutlets, Members of Parliament will now be able to partake of idlis, dosas, shorba, tikkis and khichdi made from the ancient grains of the Subcontinent. Dishes made from millets, such as jowar (sorghum), bajra (pearl millet) and ragi (finger millet), and pseudo millets, such as ramdana (amaranth), will now be served in all the Parliament canteens, and will also be delivered to MPs in the Central Hall. In the International Year of Millets — promoted by the UN after it was proposed by India — this is an important affirmation of the government’s commitment to promote these grains.
It’s not just that millets — for centuries, a dietary mainstay across India — have long suffered from state neglect, particularly when compared to the support provided for higher-yielding wheat and rice varieties. Millets have also been perceived as “humble”, figuring more in animal fodder in recent decades than on dinner plates and thalis. The image problem is a tough one to fix, but it can be done. A key part of the government’s communication as it pushes this agenda would be the message that millets are incredibly versatile and adaptable, even in non-traditional preparations, such as the Bajra Parmesan Khichdi served at the award-winning restaurant Indian Accent, for instance.
There are encouraging signs that the government has recognised this: A press release put out by the Ministry of Agriculture at the start of the year mentioned that there would be efforts to involve local restaurants and food bloggers in the national millets campaign. If the year-long efforts help in restoring millets to their proper place in the daily diet of Indians, the government can also consider reviving and promoting the incredible varieties of indigenous rice, wheat and other crops.